Gaming is emerging as a force for good amid COVID-19 disruption
Gaming was a multi-billion-dollar industry with millions of users before COVID-19, now its popularity has gone into hyperdrive. Player numbers have spiralled at speed, with games such as Honor of Kings seeing daily users rise to 100 million and Call of Duty’s latest video game Warzone attracting 15 million gamers within four days of launch. SteamDB has seen one new record set after another; first for one million users in concurrent play, then 20 million.
This spike isn’t surprising given the recent transition to online living. As the coronavirus pandemic makes social distancing and home working the new normal for many, wider audiences are seeking virtual entertainment and engagement. In fact, Comscore data shows enthusiasm for games is growing across the globe; revealing time spent with related sites and apps is up by 44% in Spain, 31% in Italy and 19% in the UK, since January.
But explosion in mainstream use has also highlighted the huge benefits and opportunities of the sector. No longer a niche pastime for only dedicated players, video games are proving a force for good — delivering value in the digital and real world, for players and beyond.
Spreading the public safety message
As the industry has grown in size and influence, global authorities are harnessing its potential to help amplify key public health communications. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has created an initiative built around the benefits of connecting via games at a secure distance; ‘PlayApartTogether’. Working with several industry giants — including Activision Blizzard, Twitch and Riot Games — the campaign aims to encourage compliance with WHO guidance by engaging the online player community, driving conversations and awareness on Twitter.
Similarly, the UK government has also teamed up with several developers to make its ‘Stay At home, Save Lives’ part of play. Using advanced geo-targeting technology, companies such as Codemasters and Rebellion will display public safety messages to UK users within games. Focusing on the importance of staying at home, the initiative will give government advice a broader platform through well-known titles such as Candy Crush Saga, Dirt Rally 2.0, and Sniper Elite 4. Weaved in as an integrated element of game sessions, the idea is to keep disruption minimal while maximising reach. For instance, messages in Sniper Elite titles will appear in loading screens, while Dirt Rally games will use native in-game advertising capabilities already enabled by tech firm Bidtsack to deliver advice on trackside banners.
A vital support for mental health
The spike in adoption isn’t just about the increased need for distraction. Video game play has moved far away from the traditional image as an exclusively solo activity; today it’s often more about interacting with other users and the joy of shared play, and the recent figures only serve to illustrate its unifying abilities. Every one of the games that leapt to the top of the UK chart when lockdown measures came into effect was a multi-player title.
At a time of widespread chaos and separation, gaming has stepped up to provide an essential means of connection. In fact, the role the industry is currently playing in boosting morale and supporting public mental health is rapidly gaining recognition. Speaking to the BBC, Dr Dayna Galloway — head of games and arts at Abertay University — described online games as an excellent method for sustaining relationships that are essential for mental well-being, while noting their capacity to “create positive shared experiences and memories for those engaged with them.” In fact, such is the importance of gaming amid coronavirus disruption that charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has launched an effort to highlight its social benefits and urge more people to connect through games.
Helping advertisers stay seen
The COVID-19 crisis has presented challenges for brands uncertain how best to navigate an unfamiliar digital advertising climate. But the gaming boom presents a chance to maintain exposure and, most crucially, continuous consumer awareness and relationships. Blending massive reach and high user engagement, video games are fast emerging as a key advertising channel — and for those who achieve an unobtrusive balance, there are significant gains to be made.
For instance, that might mean taking a leaf from the government’s book and serving native in-game ads that seamlessly blend in with game design. Because ads appear in spaces users would expect to see them in the real world, such as billboards, there is high visibility but no break to immersion. The added advantage being that direct partnership with developers give advertisers full control over creative and delivery that ensures optimal brand suitability.
Alternatively, the latest Comscore data also reveals visits to gaming information publications have soared by as much as 94% in recent weeks, indicating a swelling appetite for reliable and trusted content about gaming trends, tips, and hardware. As a result, there is an opportunity for brands to tap this demand by delivering relevant advertising alongside gaming content; spreading messages to wider audiences and benefitting from the halo effect of association with high-quality experiences.
Reality as we know it might be on pause, but the far-reaching positive influence of gaming shows the virtual world still offers a wide range of possibilities. With games that provide a lifeline for continued connectivity, safety and brand creativity, we can find essential stability and inspiration that will endure past coronavirus upheaval. Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard, put it best when he gave his take on advantages video games bring for players and companies alike: “Games are the perfect platform because they connect people through the lens of joy, purpose and meaning.”
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